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Jim Collins’ burden: “I’m no genius!” engineer tells NY Times

Jim Collins’ burden: “I’m no genius!” biomedical engineer prof tells NY Times.

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After receiving a $500,000, no-strings-attached MacArthur Fellowship in 2003, Jim Collins, a UNI professor and ENG biomedical engineering professor, was saddled with outlandish expectations of friends and family, he writes in a lighthearted September 19 New York Times column offering advice to this year’s recipients. Collins received the so-called “genius award” for his revolutionary work using dynamical systems theory to develop new clinical devices.

“Within days, I began to receive requests from family, friends, and strangers to evaluate various pet theories, some well-founded, some half-baked,” Collins writes. “People sought me out for answers and insights, usually prefacing their question with, ‘You’re a genius’: ‘We just saw ‘War of the Worlds’: are there aliens out there?’ ‘What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?’ ‘Does it really take seven years to digest chewing gum?’ How do you weigh someone’s soul?’

“If you’re an academic, expect your colleagues to assume that all of your papers are being accepted. . . . And expect not to have a lot of fun with board games. Trivial Pursuit has never been the same. My team always assumes it has the competitive advantage. But once I miss a few questions, my teammates turn on me: ‘What’s the matter with you? You’re supposed to be a genius!’ The other team chimes in: ‘Clearly, the MacArthur Foundation made a mistake.’”